Jun 15, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) shoots a three point basket in the first half against the San Antonio Spurs in game five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls: Does Cleveland's Gain Hurt Bulls' Title Hopes?

Four years ago, LeBron James opted to take his talents to South Beach to pursue championship glory and he made this announcement to the world via a television show titled “The Decision.” But as reported by Lee Jenkins of SI.com, James has decided to return to the team that selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft—the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And as a result, the “Big 3″ era of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh has concluded after a period of four years that saw the Miami Heat go to four consecutive NBA Finals and win back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.

With James coming back to the Cavaliers, what does this mean for the Chicago Bulls and their fans? Well, unfortunately, it means that Chicago’s climb back to the top will still go through James.

And as everyone knows, the Bulls have not had success against LBJ in the playoffs over the past few seasons.

Let’s take a quick look.

2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

When the 2010 playoffs began, Chicago had only won one postseason series since its last title run in 1998. After being eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the 2009 playoffs, the Bulls were hoping to change that trend when they squared off against James and the Cavaliers.

Although the Bulls dropped the first two games of the series in Cleveland, they responded with a 108-106 in Game 3 back in Chicago. However, whatever momentum the Bulls had gained from this victory was short-lived, as the Cavaliers posted a 121-98 victory in Game 4 and followed that up with a 96-94 win in Game 5—closing out the series in five games.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1MNlvpy57k]

In that series James’ averages included 31.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists per contest. What was even more impressive is that James shot an efficient 57 percent from the floor, including 54 percent from distance.

2011 Eastern Conference Finals

The Bulls had a lot of variables working in their favor when they faced a James-led team for the second straight year. With a 62-20 mark, they had secured home-court advantage through the conference finals.

The team’s up-and-coming point guard, Derrick Rose, had risen to superstar status—becoming the youngest player in league history to win the MVP award.

In addition that that, the Bulls had beaten the Heat in all three of the regular-season meetings between these two teams. Based on these trends, the Bulls were fairly confident about their chances against the Heat and their confidence only increased after taking the series opener 103-82.

But similar to what took place against the Cavaliers a season earlier, James and his teammates clamped down on Rose and the Bulls to win the series in five games. Aside from the blowout in the opener, the most notable game from this series was Game 5.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgLMI784M4E]

With a chance to extend their season, the Bulls appeared poised to send the series back to Miami for a sixth game. But despite leading by 12 points (77-65) at the 3:14 mark, the Bulls could not seal the deal.

Miami scored 18 of the final 21 points of the game en route to an 83-80 victory, stunning both the Bulls and the crowd at the United Center. James scored 12 of this 28 points in the fourth quarter and rejected a 3-point attempt by Rose as time expired.

James’ stat line for this series included 25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per contest. While he was not quite as dominant as he was when he and the Cavaliers eliminated the Bulls in 2010, it wasn’t necessary with Bosh and Wade chipping in with 23 and 18 points per game respectively.

2013 Eastern Conference Semifinals

The Bulls and Heat met again in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, but the Bulls were short-handed this time around. Without Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in the lineup, Chicago was not expected to be much of challenge for the defending champions.

Ah, but this is why they have to play the games. In Game 1, the Bulls closed out the contest with a 10-0 run en route to a 93-86 victory. Nate Robinson led the Bulls charge with 27 points.

I am certain that I don’t need to remind you how the rest of series played out, but I will do so anyway. Over the course of the next three games, the Heat beat the Bulls by an average margin of 23 points per contest, including an impressive 115-78 win in Game 2, which represents Chicago’s worst playoff loss in franchise history.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWhH2TEMcOk]

The series mercifully came to an end in Game 5 as the Heat edged the Bulls 94-91. James scored 23 points in the series finale and his numbers included 23.6 points, 7.8 assists and 7.0 rebounds per outing in the five-game set.

Conclusion

James choosing to return to the his hometown and to the organization that drafted him out of high school makes for a good story to say the least. This is especially true considering the bitter split that took place between the two sides four years ago.

And judging from this fan’s reaction in the video clip below, the people in Ohio are more than happy to have the best player in the world suiting up for their team once again.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQSqpH7LxdM]

But from Chicago’s perspective, the more some things change, the more they stay the same. While the James-Wade-Bosh trio no longer poses a threat, the road to a championship still goes through King James regardless of which team he plays for. And with James back in the central division, it is very conceivable that the Bulls now become the third-best team behind the Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers.

That being said, unless the Bulls are able to add difference-makers to the mix such as Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love, there is a chance that James will continue to be the obstacle that stands between them and winning a title.

 

James Tillman is a Staff Writer for HoopsHabit.com and a sports contributor for Football Nation and Sports Kings/Pass The Pill. James is also a former Featured Sports Contributor for Yahoo! Contributor Network. 

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